A great aid for the visually challenged goes unnoticed

NATMO makes Braille maps, but many say it is not doing enough to market them

January 04, 2015 12:33 am | Updated 10:03 am IST - KOLKATA:

The country’s foremost map producing organisation, NATMO, started producing Braille maps a decade and a half ago. But few are aware of this.

Many, including the NGOs for differently-abled children, complained on World Braille Day that NATMO’s specially designed maps for the blind are “difficult to access.” “Such maps are not available in the market and takes a lot of time to arrive once ordered,” said Shampa Sengupta, director of the Kolkata-based Shruty Disability Rights Centre, an organisation for the differently-abled. Braille study materials including maps, he said, were rarely available.

“In the absence of Braille products, students have to depend on audio books and thus can’t get a grip on spellings,” she said.

NATMO, founded by legendary cartographer S.P. Chatterjee in 1956, had so far published more than 20 Braille maps on various topics such as population, rainfall, temperature and soil quality, besides physical maps of the country.

The organisation, however, is set to change the production pattern and availability of such maps. According to NATMO authorities, the move would “not only boost the production of Braille maps but also increase the availability” of Braille maps to visually impaired students.

“Braille maps were earlier produced using conventional printing machines. But a new technology that is now available uses computer printers. This will increase the availably of Braille maps,” Director of NATMO Vibash Chandra Jha told The-Hindu here on Friday.

The initiative is part of the organisation’s effort to “fully computerise” the printing of Braille maps. The cost of producing Braille maps was nominal, Prof. Jha said. NATMO often gave them free of cost to blind schools across the country that did not have adequate funds. About 10 blind schools in Bengal uses Braille maps produced by NATMO, he said.

The organisation started the project in 1997. It shifted to the digital process of manufacturing both conventional and Braille maps between 2006 and 2007. “NATMO purchases satellite data from the National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad, which is then converted to Braille maps with a geographic information software system,” he said.

Prof Jha, however, denies the allegation that NATMO was low on marketing and publicity, while producing some outstanding maps. “We put up advertisements at various seminars, book fairs and conferences,” he said. NATMO had its own official website. The organisation, however, was yet to have a presence on social networks, like Twitter or Facebook, he confessed.

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